We continue our list of the best games for Mac. The next category is:
Artifact, a card game based on the popular DOTA battler, got mixed reviews when it was first launched back in 2018. The developers at Valve quickly started work on Artifact 2.0, but for various reasons decided the game was a bit of a dead end; they renamed Artifact 2.0 as Artifact Foundry, while the original Artifact 1.0 became Artifact Classic, and now - if you've managed to keep up with that convoluted potted history - both versions are completely free on Steam.
We'll focus on Foundry, as that's the 'new' version, and offers more streamlined gameplay than the rather complicated Classic.
Artifact Foundry starts with a very simple tutorial that introduces the basic concepts of the game. As with most card games, you face your opponent across a board that represents the battle zone, and then play various cards that represent 'creeps' - basic melee fighters - as well as heroes with special abilities, and various magical spells that you can cast yourself (including delights such as 'viscous nasal goo' which chips away at an enemy's health points).
However, Artifact ramps up the complexity by splitting the battle zone into three lanes, each with a tower you have to attack. The placement of each card therefore becomes very important, especially as you have to place different types of card in a specific order before getting down to the nitty-gritty of combat.
That complexity was probably the reason the game never really took off, but both versions of Artifact are free, and unlike most card games they won't be pestering you to spend more cash on new decks of cards all the time. And, with a campaign mode and random bot battles against your computer-controlled opponent, Artifact is a good way of learning the ropes in a free card game without having to throw yourself into highly competitive - and expensive - games such as Hearthstone.
Chronicle: Runescape Legends
Where to buy: rschronicle.com (free to play, with in-game purchases)
System requirements: macOS 10.10.5, 1.6GHz dual-core Intel processor, Intel HD 3000, AMD Radeon HD 5750, or nVidia GeForce GT640M
Jagex is the developer behind the distinctly old-school Runescape MMORPG, but this spin-off game has a character of its own and actually brings some interesting new ideas to the traditional card-game format.
The most obvious difference is that - instead placing your cards on a simple flat table in front of you - Chronicle is played on a 3D 'board' that looks a bit like a children's pop-up storybook. And, rather than just staring at your opponent across the table, the two of you are represented on the board by animated figures called Legends.
At the start of each battle you and your opponent - called your Rival - place your cards on the board at various points. Those cards then act as 'encounters' that move you closer towards the ultimate battle with your Rival. Some encounters will actually require you to defeat monsters, but can reward you with extra gold that can be used to buy 'support' cards that may give you a health or damage bonus.
That's a little confusing at first, as it means that you're often fighting your own cards, rather than engaging your Rival in battle, but sometimes it's worth using those encounter battles to pick up useful rewards. And other encounters can also cast spells that do direct damage to your Rival, so you need to think carefully about where you place each encounter card on the 3D board.
Like most card games, Chronicles is free to play, but does its best to sell you new card packs and other upgrades through its online store. But there's a good selection of game modes that you can explore without needing to spend any money, and the unusual 3D board-game design of Chronicles really helps it to stand out from the card-game crowd. The only drawback is that the game's 3D graphics need a moderately powerful Mac, so check the system requirements before you download it.
Elder Scrolls Online: Legends
There's no shortage of computer-based card games available these days, but Legends attempts to stand out from the crowd by drawing on the mythology and characters from the hugely popular Elder Scrolls games. Admittedly, few of the Elder Scrolls games have ever been released on the Mac so that's not necessarily a big draw for Mac owners, but it still helps to give the game a distinctive character of its own.
The game starts with a rather drawn-out tutorial that introduces the basics of the game - and, to be honest, the tutorial isn't great, so it'd help if you've already played some card games before. Then you enter the main single-player campaign, which sends you on various missions throughout the Elder Scrolls world of Tamriel, where you can earn a number of starter cards and decks along the way, before introducing the Arena and Battle modes.
There are two arena options, allowing you to either play against the computer for more practice, or to go online against other players. Both Arena modes give you good rewards, with new cards, as well as gold coins that you can use to buy more cards in the game's online store.
That's the catch, of course, as - like most card games - Legends is free-to-play but makes its money by tempting you to splash some cash to get better cards and other items in the online store. These range from £3 to £60, so you can spend a small fortune if you get carried away buying cards for the end-game Battle mode. Fortunately, the rewards that you can earn in the single-player and Arena modes are good enough to get you quite a long way into the game before deciding if you want to part with any real-world money.
Gwent: The Witcher Card Game
One of the advantages of the new M1 Macs is that they use the same Apple Silicon computer chips as the iPhone and iPad - which makes it very easy for developers to create M1 Mac versions of their existing iOS apps fairly quickly. One of the first games to move across from iOS to M1 Macs is Gwent, the card game based on the hugely popular Witcher series (not to be confused with Thronebreaker - another Witcher game that includes some card game elements).
You don't get to play as Geralt the Witcher himself, instead starting by choosing a faction, such as the blood-thirsty warriors of Skellige, the crafty Scoia'tael who rely on tricks and traps, or the self-explanatory monster faction. You then act as the leader of that faction, compiling a deck of 25 cards that represent your various fighters and magical skills, and then choosing 10 cards that you take into battle at the start of each round. Each game consists of three rounds, and whoever wins best of three will emerge as the victor.
Like most card games, Gwent depicts the battleground split into two halves, with you and your opponent lining up forces ready for battle. However, Gwent also splits each player's battle zone into two rows, for separate melee and ranged combat. This adds an extra element of strategy to each move, as you need to think carefully about how to deploy all your forces - an archer dropped into the front line of melee combat will be easy pickings for the first axe that swings their way, but put them further back and they'll be able to pick off their enemies with deadly efficiency.
It's great fun, and the hand-drawn artwork adds a nice sense of gritty Witcher-esque atmosphere to your battles. The game is free to play, but you can buy additional card packs to add new characters and skills to your deck if you want to, starting from about £5 each. The only disappointment is that Gwent is now available on just about every type of computer and mobile device except Intel Macs, so you'll need one of the newer M1 models.
Hearthstone has been around for a few years now, and Blizzard's typically slick presentation quickly established it as one of the leading computer card games. Like most card games, the basic version of Hearthstone is free to play, but offers a wide range of card packs that you can either buy with real money - starting from £2.99/€2.99 for two packs of five cards - or earn by collecting gold and treasure within the game itself.
Picking up a trick from the long-running success of World Of Warcraft, Blizzard also releases special 'expansion packs' for Hearthstone every now and then, which bring new features to the game, as well as new cards and other goodies.
But Hearthstone is still a fun game to play, even if you don't want to spend a lot of money buying all the latest expansions. It's a good option for newcomers to card games, with a simple tutorial that guides you through the main features of the game, and the basic/free version of Hearthstone still includes several different game modes that you can play in order to win new cards without spending any money at all. The game runs on most types of computer and mobile devices too, so you can switch between Mac, iOS and other devices using the same game account.
Hex: Shards Of Fate
Blizzard seems to have the trading card game (TCG) scene sewn up, with millions of people regularly playing Hearthstone. But if you fancy trying a card game that offers something different then it's worth checking out Hex.
It's also a good option for people who are new to card games, as Hex provides an extensive tutorial that introduces the basics of the game, including the combat cards that provide various skills and powers, and resource cards that can enhance your powers in different ways.
You start by choosing a champion, from a typical mix of fantasy races and classes, such as Humans, Orcs, and Elves, Warlocks, Clerics and Rogues. Each champion has their own abilities and style of play, so your choice here will determine the type of cards that you need to collect as you progress through the game. Like most card games, Hex is free to play, but does its darnedest to sell you additional packs of cards, with a basic starter pack costing £10.99, and the Primal Dawn pack that was released just last week adding another £9.99.
Fortunately, you can get started without spending any money at all. The developers describe Hex as the first 'MMOTCG', as it adds elements of the massively-multiplayer online genre to the trading card format. As well as playing against other people online, you can enter the game's story-based campaign, which allows you to explore a number of dungeons in order to earn gold and other rewards. We like the idea of trying to play solo online, as it adds a different dimension to the standard card game format, and gives you a chance to see how far you can go without breaking out the credit cards.
In Minion Masters you collect and use cards that give you a series of different warriors and magical spells to use in battle against your opponent (who wields a similar deck). But rather than using 2D graphics to depict your battles on screen, Minion Masters steps into full 3D, which - in more ways than one - really does add an extra dimension.
Seeing the screen in 3D adds a more tactical element, as you need to think carefully about where you place your cards on the battlefield - keeping them closer to your own base can provide a stronger defence, but a sudden strike attack needs your forces to hit the ground running as close to the enemy as possible.
Once you've completed the initial tutorial missions, you'll find that your enemy is another real-life human being, as the game is played online against other people, rather than simply pitting you against an artificial computer-controlled opponent. Playing online also means the leisurely turn-based combat of other card games goes out the window, and the game is played in frantic real-time with both players chucking their best fighters and spells on to the screen as fast as possible. After winning a few battles, you can unlock a multiplayer option that also allows teams of two to compete against each other.
The good news is that Minion Masters is free to download and play. But, like most card games, it does its darnedest to tempt you into buying expensive decks of cards to unlock new characters and provide in-game currency to enhance your deck.
Most strategy games delight in ramping up the action, starting slowly with a few characters or abilities and then increasing the pace as you try to develop your forces and conquer your opponents. Wingspan, in contrast, describes itself as a "relaxing strategy game" that allows you to create your own bird sanctuary, developing the natural habitat and food sources in order to attract a thriving bird population.
Based on a popular board game, Wingspan on Mac/PC (and Nintendo Switch) takes the form of a card game. It will obviously appeal to bird watchers and nature lovers, but it also makes a nice change of pace for people who feel the need for some more soothing game pastimes, or for parents who want to introduce their children to some less violent gaming action.
Your bird sanctuary consists of three different habitats that you have to nurture - the forest provides food, while grassland is for nesting and laying eggs. To choose your bird population you go to the wetland, where each bird is represented by a card that describes its food requirements and egg-laying capacity. Many birds also have special abilities - like power-ups in a conventional game - such as the Carolina chickadee, which helps to boost the supply of corn, while the bald eagle is a strong hunter.
You can play Wingspan on your own, simply aiming to achieve a series of goals for your bird sanctuary. Or if you're feeling a bit competitive, there's a multiplayer mode that allows you to play online against other people, or against computer-controlled AI opponents. But even in multiplayer mode, Wingspan is more about improving and enhancing the natural habit, rather than the conquest and victory of traditional strategy games.